Fulham provide Keegan with first win
Roy Collins at Daily Telegraph

Newcastle United (1) 2 Fulham (0) 0

In so many words, Kevin Keegan declared beforehand that the only football excitement in his life from now on would be provided by his soccer circus in Glasgow, announcing that the all dancing, all singing policy he had laid down when he arrived here in January would be replaced by functional, win ugly stuff.

That is what the threat of relegation from the Premier League and the loss of all those TV millions can do to the most romantic and optimistic of managers, and his players took him at his word with a display that never threatened to produce any thrills worthy of the Big Top.

But with Newcastle winning their first match under Keegan at the 10th attempt as snow flurries coated the fans, the Toon Army were literally walking in a winter wonderland once a precious three points had been secured.

Finally, at Easter, the Messiah came good, as Messiahs are supposed to, and at the final whistle, a relieved Keegan turned to raise his arms in triumph, though until his team's late second goal, his stomach must have been churning with anxiety.

Newcastle are still not sure of staying up but this lifted them six points clear of the bottom three and with Fulham demonstrating just how dire the teams in the relegation zone are, they will be more than hopeful of surviving. Fulham hardly created a chance, which takes some doing against a side whose only previous clean sheet under Keegan was in his first game against Bolton here.

Taking up his manager's theme, Newcastle captain Michael Owen used his programme notes to regale those who believe he is only a box player and then bizarrely proved it by playing almost as a sweeper at times, tidying up in front of his own penalty area. Yet when he arrived in familiar territory in the visitors' box near the end, it was to apply the header to Geremi's free-kick which made sure of the victory, having earlier missed a much easier one.

Jean Keegan, the Newcastle manager's other half, was almost as delighted with the result as her husband, who said: "I haven't been able to take her out for a while so we will be going out tonight. This has been a great week for us. I'm delighted with the win and though it doesn't mean we are still not in some danger, it takes some of the pressure off.

The players' attitude has been questioned and my managerial ability has been questioned so this gives the whole club a lift." Remarkably, this game attracted St James' biggest crowd of the season, only because Fulham brought just a few diehards, allowing Newcastle to sell more seats in the section normally reserved for away fans. But for much of the game, the stadium was as quiet as Lord's, so much so that you could hear the players barking instructions at one another.

The loudest, most persistent voice was that of Fulham's Jimmy Bullard as he tried to inspire and cajole his team-mates, while also wasting no attempt to try for goal long before seeing the whites of Steve Harper's eyes. After an horrendous injury, this was only his 10th Premier League game of the season and you cannot help thinking that had he been available earlier, Fulham might not be in such a mess.

With seven games to go, their only realistic hope of avoiding relegation is to overhaul Birmingham, four points ahead of them with a far superior goal difference; wins for Sunderland and Reading carrying them out of sight, as even Fulham manager Roy Hodgson agreed.

He also offered an excuse not heard by most of us since we played at schoolboy level, saying that his team struggled against the wind in the second half. He said: "We have got to keep believing that our football can get us out of this", but he did not sound as though he has convinced himself, let alone his players.

In contrast, Newcastle's players, after a first win in 14, should be full of confidence for the run-in, even though there were more nerves on show here than in a crowded dentist's waiting room. They should have been eased after seven minutes when Mark Viduka opened the scoring.

He picked up the ball after some good work by Nicky Butt, weaved inside on to his left foot and planted his effort into the bottom left-hand corner.

"Those are the sort of goals he scores," cooed Keegan, "good feet and a great finish. It's good to have him back because he offers us something different, in fact there is no one quite like him in the Premier League." And it was, in defiance of Keegan's new, no-nonsense policy, a moment of pure entertainment.

Newcastle's remaining fixtures: March 30 - Tottenham (a); April 5 - Reading (h); April 12 -Portsmouth (a); April 19 - Sunderland (h); April 26 - West Ham (a); May 3 - Chelsea (h); May 11 - Everton (a).

Fulham's remaining fixtures: March 29 - Derby (a); April 5 - Sunderland (h); April 12 - Reading (a); April 19 - Liverpool (h), April 26 - Man City (a), May 3 - Birmingham (h); May 11 - Portsmouth (a).